Folio — From the October 2015 issue

Cattle Calls

The vanishing breed of the country vet

Download Pdf
Read Online

This is how you get a cow to stand still: round up the herd, then urge them into a chute. Some chutes begin as wood, but all end as metal, with what is called a headgate. Today’s chute, in north-central Iowa, is inside a large barn, which protects against the November chill. In single file, the cattle pass through the chute, whose far end faces open doors. As each cow nears daylight and seeming freedom, the farmer pulls a lever to close the headgate, leaving the cow’s head poking out the end of the chute and her body immobilized inside. A veterinarian named Renee Bertram administers injections in the muscle around the left shoulder. Her boss, Zach Vosburg, meanwhile steps into the chute behind the cow, his right arm encased up to the shoulder in a latex glove. He has just applied lube, and as a farmhand lifts the cow’s tail, the thirty-four-year-old vet slides his fingers into the animal’s rectum.

“Come on, darlin’, let me in.

Photographs and border photographic details from Franklin County, Iowa, February and June 2015, by Lance Rosenfield. All images © Lance Rosenfield/Prime This page: Cattle at a farm in winter

Photographs and border photographic details from Franklin County, Iowa, February and June 2015, by Lance Rosenfield. All images © Lance Rosenfield/Prime This page: Cattle at a farm in winter

The cow hardly flinches. Vosburg gazes into space as he feels around inside: he’s hoping to discern the shape of a calf’s head through the walls of the intestine and the uterus. All human eyes are on him, awaiting the verdict.

“She’s bred,” he finally declares. “Nice big calf in her.” A pause. “Four and a half, five months.” Vosburg has an educated hand, can judge the age of a fetus by the size and position of the head.

On his clipboard, the farmer notes the good news and the number on the cow’s ear tag. Vosburg withdraws his manure-stained arm. The farmer opens the headgate and the cow bounds out. Next!

Previous PageNext Page
1 of 10

You are currently viewing this article as a guest. If you are a subscriber, please sign in. If you aren't, please subscribe below and get access to the entire Harper's archive for only $45.99/year. Or purchase this issue on your iOS or Android devices for $6.99.

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Download Pdf
Share
’s most recent article for Harper’s Magazine, “The Way of All Flesh,” appeared in the May 2013 issue. He is the author of many books and teaches at New York University’s Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute.

More from Ted Conover:

Get access to 165 years of
Harper’s for only $45.99

United States Canada

THE CURRENT ISSUE

May 2017

Bee-Brained

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The Mothers

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Facing the Furies

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The New Climate

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

A Dream Preferred

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Snowden’s Box

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

view Table Content
Close

Please enjoy this free article from Harper’s Magazine.